Special to the Opelika Observer
Medical facilities across the region in dire need of protective face masks soon will get a much-needed boost in supplies, thanks to a new Auburn University initiative. Through a coalition of university units and faculty led by Auburn University Outreach’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, or OLLI at Auburn, plans are underway to produce 10,000 protective face masks to meet the growing demand because of COVID-19.
Several area volunteer groups, with OLLI at Auburn members who enjoy sewing as a hobby, are already making masks as part of church or other local service projects.
Completed masks will be made available to local clinics and community health providers to meet a growing need amid short supplies and the COVID-19 pandemic. Masks produced by volunteers will be collected at OLLI at Auburn’s Sunny Slope office for distribution to the Auburn University Medical Clinic, East Alabama Medical Center and a number of health care facilities across the region.
“OLLI at Auburn has a dedicated and talented base of members who are eager to help during this public health crisis,” said organizer Scott Bishop, director of OLLI at Auburn. “Where we saw a need was to provide support to these individual efforts with some collective assistance, and thus help ramp up the production of personal protective masks at this time of great need.”
The masks are designed to cover an individual’s mouth and nose comfortably and fitted with ties so that one size fits all. Volunteers can sew the masks from cotton fabric templates to be available at Sunny Slope. The templates will have four pieces of fabric— two from quilting cotton and two from cotton knit— that will be pre-cut from the pattern in the instructions. The sewing kit will also include instructions for how to sew the mask and tips for wearing and caring for a mask. Instructions and the demonstration video will be available on the initiative’s website at aub.ie/auoutreachmasks.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting high number of cases nationwide and in East Alabama have created a shortage of medical supplies, especially PPEs, or personal protective equipment. While not surgical-grade PPE, these volunteer-made masks are useful for a variety of health situations, saving commercial masks for where they are most needed.
“One of the most extraordinary aspects of the Auburn Family is its capacity and willingness to help the community in times of need,” said Auburn University President Jay Gogue. “University Outreach and OLLI at Auburn represent the best of that spirit of service, and I appreciate their leadership in this initiative.”
Vice President for Development DiFalco Jane Parker announced the Auburn University Foundation will provide $20,000 in funding to support the acquisition of materials to produce the masks.
“Our fellow outreach offices and many other university units have provided much support as well,” Bishop said.
University Outreach is working with units across campus, including the Auburn University Medical Clinic, Media Production Group and faculty from the Department of Industrial and Graphic Design and the Department of Curriculum and Teaching. Medical Clinic Director Dr. Fred Kam advised on the design and applications for the masks; Science and Engineering Education Professor Christine Schnittka created prototypes and designed an instructional plan; Industrial Design Department Head Clark Lundell provided laser-cut fabrication templates and MPG Director Bruce Kuerten produced an online video demonstration featuring sewing instructions.
“Auburn’s outreach mission and strategic purpose is to provide practical and innovative solutions to significant public needs, and this interdisciplinary initiative is a powerful example of that responsiveness,” said Royrickers Cook, vice president for University Outreach.
The enthusiasm generated by the collaboration is apparent, says Bishop, who encourages members of the community to join the effort.
“By making a mask, you can make a difference for our community, especially at this critical time—we welcome everyone’s help in this special initiative,” Bishop said.
For more information about the initiative and to learn how you can volunteer, visit aub.ie/auoutreachmasks or call Scott Bishop at OLLI at Auburn at 334-844-3146.